Original Article Published On The JNS

The 33-year-old Stanford University standout and Nigerian national team player visited Israel twice on Birthright and spoke about how it’s helped discover her family history.

When Rosalyn Gold-Onwude was a college student at Stanford University, she participated on Birthright Israel. Several years later, she went on her second trip—this time, as a staff member on her younger sister’s Birthright experience. While participating in the program is not so unusual—more than 600,000 Jewish young people have gone on the free, 10-day trips since the program’s founding in 1999—Gold-Onwude’s story is a bit different. She is the only Birthright participant to play on the Nigerian women’s national basketball team and to be inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Northern California.

Gold-Onwude, 33, is perhaps best known for her current work as an NBA broadcaster for ESPN; she has also hosted FirstTake on ESPN. Her impeccable media credentials include NBA and college basketball coverage. Since 2012, she has covered March Madness, the NCAA tournament and Pac-12 Men’s and Women’s college basketball as both an analyst and reporter. She has also worked with the Golden State Warriors, WNBA’s New York Liberty and NBA TV.

The 5-foot-10 former point guard and shooting guard for the Stanford Cardinals from 2005 to 2010 managed to reach the Final Four three times. As a senior, she was Pac-12 “Defensive Player of the Year.”

“My mother [Pat Gold] is Russian Jewish from Queens, N.Y.,” she described; her mother’s grandmother came from Riga, Latvia, escaping the Nazis. “My father [Austin Onwude] was born in Nigeria and lives in Nigeria. His side was the more dominant side!”

While she was at Stanford, several of her cousins had celebrated b’nai mitzvah and visited Israel. She began considering a trip there as well to learn more about her Jewish heritage. “A friend in college who is also half-Jewish said, ‘I’m going to apply [to Birthright]. You should, too. We both got in.”

‘Thirst to explore her heritage ’

She recently shared her story in a virtual conversation with Israel Outdoors, an organizer of Birthright Israel trips.

Rosalyn Gold-Onwude for a post-game interview at CSN Bay Area after an Indiana Pacers vs. Golden State Warriors basketball game, Nov. 21, 2016. Credit: Saeriksen via Wikimedia Commons.

Nate Edelstein, North American director of Israel Outdoors, interviewed Gold-Onwude, explained that “with international travel largely on hold, Israel Outdoors has for months been hosting virtual events for our alumni, thanks to the support of Birthright Israel. We feature interesting, creative programs and speakers that bring a meaningful Israel experience to attendees. Ros’s insights and personal story are so compelling—she’s an alumna of Israel Outdoors’ Birthright Israel trips, a former basketball star at Stanford University, and now a top national basketball broadcaster and analyst.”

Gold-Onwude enthusiastically reported that “both trips were dope! Thanks to Birthright and Israel Outdoors, they were educational and fun.” She spoke movingly about star-gazing in the desert while staying in Bedouin tents, about the Dead Sea and how having Israeli soldiers join the group offered “a way different perspective” to the trip.

“My favorite place, hands down, was Tzfat,” she revealed. “I loved the mystical city.” She even showed off the jewelry and rings she purchased there.

Edelstein observed, “I think people are not only drawn to her background but also her thirst to explore her heritage, which is largely what led her to travel with Israel Outdoors. It was fascinating to hear from Ros about her life experience and her family’s journey—and how she was deeply moved and impacted by her Birthright Israel trip with Israel Outdoors.”

Gold-Onwude considered playing professional basketball in Israel, even speaking with an Israeli coach. “I would not count as an American on the team; I considered making aliyah.” She noted that Israel is an ideal place to play basketball, as “the league is competitive, and they speak English, which helps with the transition. And it is a beautiful and vibrant country.”

While preparing for one of her trips to Israel, an American cousin encouraged her to reach out to a cousin on her mother’s side who lived in Jerusalem. “They invited me to their home, and we spent Shabbat together. They showed me pictures of my great-grandmother [the one who fled the Nazis] as a child. It was an incredible family moment!”

‘Part of Jewish culture is helpfulness’

Gold-Onwude found her second Birthright trip to be particularly powerful. She shared openly that her family was dealing with her mother’s early onset of Alzheimer’s in her 50s. As her mother was losing her ability to communicate, Ros was even more determined to learn about her mother’s family history. Serving as a staff member on her sister Annie’s Birthright trip, she said, was especially meaningful. “The most powerful experience was going to the Kotel [the Western Wall] in Jerusalem. We wrote about our mother and put the note in the wall. We held our hands up, and it was like the whole wall was vibrating!”

Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and her sister, Annie, together in Israel on Birthright. Source: Instagram.

Gold-Onwude attributed so much of her basketball and her overall life success to her mother. “Basketball has given me everything,” she said. “It became a gift from my mom. She gave me her passion for the game. I got my mom’s passion and my dad’s athleticism!”

She described her mother’s “selfless efforts,” always giving to others and noting that “part of Jewish culture is helpfulness.”

Gold-Onwude said she continues to help others in a variety of ways, including mentoring young girls, raising awareness for mental-health issues, working with women in business and her ongoing efforts in AfricaShe has participated in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Program and in the NBA Africa Game. On her visits, she has helped children develop basketball and life skills. She has also worked with the Hope 4 Girls basketball camp in Nigeria.

Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and her mother, Pat Gold, who suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Source: Instagram.

She added that she really got to know both Nigeria and the continent of Africa through her involvement with the Nigerian women’s national basketball team. She represented the team in the 2011 FIBA Africa Championship for Women, averaging 8.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and two assists per game.

Gold-Onwude concluded her presentation by noting how basketball changed her life.

After all, she now travels the country and world following her passion for the game: “It’s crazy what I’ve been able to see and experience!”

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On the Jewish holiday of Purim, which took place 3 weeks ago, there is a custom to give mishloach manot, gifts of ready to eat food, to friends.  While most people give “eat now” food—things which can be consumed right away, some have the custom of giving Kosher for Passover foods which can be eaten exactly one month later on Passover.  I am happy that the Chessler Family is in the first category!

Noah Chessler celebrated his bar mitzvah February 25th on Purim evening.  It was not the Purim bar mitzvah Noah or his family had envisioned.  For years, the Chesslers were anticipating a Purim bar mitzvah and party with an in person megillah reading and costumes, accompanied by hot dogs, cotton candy, games, booths and other festivities for all guests to enjoy. Instead, the bar mitzvah took place in their apartment, on Zoom.  In the age of Covid, Zoom bar mitzvahs have become the norm.  And it is up to families to make these events meaningful and fun.

I recently wrote an article about the Moving Traditions organization, and their guide booklet for Zoom bar and mitzvahs.  One key takeaway from Moving Traditions, rabbis and families interviewed is that these do-it-yourself b’mitzvahs have offered an unprecedented opportunity for a return to meaning and basics—with less emphasis on dress, invitations and the party.  And they are empowering to families. 

The Chesslers hired a skeleton crew to make sure the Zoom and the videos ran smoothly, they borrowed a megillah (Scroll of Esther) from Noah’s grandfather, and purchased cute and simple costumes (Ramen Noodle, potato chips and Heinz Ketchup t-shirts) for the family.  Noah read several megillah chapters “live,” from his home, while family and friends read megillah chapters from locations from New York to Massachusetts, California and even Israel!  The Chesslers made a truly inclusive and festive celebration out of a pretty straightforward 10-chapter story.  They essentially embellished the 10-chapter story by telling it in 20 acts with friends and sharing pre-recorded videos, tributes to Noah and more.

I was one of Noah’s teachers and was lucky enough to be on-site to help Noah lead maariv, the evening prayer, “spot him” as he read from the scroll, address him and present him with a bar mitzvah gift. I was also able to quickly change out of my dress clothes to sport an Israeli basketball uniform for most of the megillah reading.  It was a really fun evening! 

Noah's mom liked being able to personalize the experience and bring in and engage guests and participants.  “It really made the event feel lively and warm!”  In addition, she notes a silver lining of Zoom–“active” participation from Israel, Canada, the UK, Belize, and across the US including Oregon and New Hampshire!

I was impressed by nearly every decision the Chessler Family made in order to make the bar mitzvah fun and meaningful. One decision which was particularly close to my heart was Noah and the family’s support of three disability owned businesses as they planned their mishloach manot/guest bags. They provided gift bags and t-shirts printed by Spectrum Designs (https://www.spectrumdesigns.org/), flavored popcorn by Popcorn for the People (https://www.popcornforthepeople.com/), and chocolate covered treats by Truly Scrumptious by Alexa  (https://www.trulyscrumptiousbyalexa.com/).  Please read about Jewish organizations and individuals who have found ways to support disability owned businesses—and please consider ways to do the same!

Noah’s very special bar mitzvah is a recent memory, and Pesach is almost here.  We are all feeling hopeful that we will soon be able to return to in person prayer services and bar and bat mitzvahs.  May we continue to offer Zoom options as needed and appropriate, and may we continue to search for meaning—supporting disability owned businesses in the process is one great way!

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Original Post Published On The Jerusalem Post

Welcome to City Winery’s Annual Downtown highly interpretive Seder. The Seder will take place Thursday, March 25 at 7 p.m. EST, two days ahead of Passover, and is free and live from City Winery.

NEW YORK – Imagine a Seder where Dr. Ruth offers a sexual take on the afikomen, comedian Judy Gold offers her unique interpretation of “Dayenu,” the four cups of wine are blessed by four different Manhattan mayoral candidates, and musical performers include David Broza, Idan Raichel, Marc Cohn, Macy Gray, Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and Speech of Arrested Development.

Welcome to City Winery’s Annual Downtown highly interpretive Seder. The Seder will take place Thursday, March 25 at 7 p.m. EST, two days ahead of Passover, and is free and live from City Winery, Pier 57 in New York City (RSVP at citywinery.com).

The annual tradition, which has taken place for 27 years, is hosted by Michael Dorf, the entrepreneur, independent music promoter and philanthropist who founded such music venues as Manhattan’s Knitting Factory, the City Winery restaurant/winery/music venue franchise, and Tribeca Hebrew, an after-school program in Lower Manhattan. Dorf is also the chairman of Lab/Shul which, according to the website, is “an everybody-friendly, artist-driven, God-optional, experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings based in NYC and reaching the world.”

The Jewishly committed Dorf grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the Seder was “very personally satisfying and fulfilling with so much meaning.” Dorf fondly recalls his father making the children listen to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech each year.

“We always made the seder as relevant as possible.”
When Dorf founded the Knitting Factory, he remembered this experience. “The scene was Jewish avant-garde and African-American jazz musicians. Weaving the theme of the liberation struggle into something was very important.” Thus, the yearly Seder was born.

“I took liberally the beginning of the Haggadah which says, ‘Tell the story of the leaving of Egypt in the language you understand,” reports Dorf. “For me, the language I understood was not Aramaic or Hebrew – it was the language of the arts.” Dorf began considering ways to “bring poets, musicians and political thinkers together to tell the story in a language they understood.”

PAST SEDERS have included interpretative dances that literally took place on matzah (Dorf recounts playfully, “It made a mess of the stage!), and saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist John Zorn playing the “bad child” to Philip Glass’s “simple child.” Last year, more than 4,000 people tuned into City Winery’s online event, and the YouTube video has grown to over 33,000 views.

In the years prior to the pandemic, 300 people typically assembled for the in-person Seder and meal in New York, with dozens more attending Seders at various City Winery locations across the United States. Dorf is quick to stress, “I don’t believe mine is a substitute for doing the Seder with family or in small groups.” For that reason, the City Winery Seder takes place before Passover. He is pleased when people bring elements of the City Winery Seder home.

“It is a stimulating, fun, entertaining evening which gets people going, making symbolic connections to the Seder plate.” There are always many additional requests from those unable to attend the Seder for copies of the Haggadah that Dorf and his team produce anew each year.
For Dorf, producing and hosting the Seder each year continues to be relevant.

“Every year, there is a very important reason to re-look at the ancient text. The reason has never been more important with hatred, antisemitism and racism on the rise. In addition, it is only two months since the insurrection [at the Capitol in Washington, DC] and divisiveness like this has never before been seen in our country. This is an important time to be breaking bread with our African-American brothers.”

Dorf and his team had considered a number of options for this year’s Seder, including hosting up to 100 people at City Winery in New York. But as regulations for indoor and outdoor dining kept changing and most musicians were not physically in New York, Dorf decided to feature most musical guests by video. Ten or 12 family members and friends will join Dorf on location in New York. He is pleased to physically host the Seder at the City Winery New York, which is scheduled to reopen for dinner and drinks on March 17.

“I care very much about my adopted hometown. In many ways, New York is a metaphor for the rest of the country and for what we need to do to rebuild safely.”

Perhaps Dorf and his guests will end their Seder with a special prayer that should take place in-person “Next Year in New York!”

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

American-Israeli basketball influencer making an impact on courts and screens all over the world.

NEW YORK – Mike Kaufman may be the most popular Israeli basketball player you never heard of.

The American-born 28-year-old Kaufman played professional basketball for two years in Israel, is a well-known basketball teacher, coach, sports journalist/videographer and social media influencer. He has accompanied NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo to Greece, shot around with Dwyane Wade, taught literally millions of aspiring young players to make complex shots, and recently did a feature video story on Israel’s two recent NBA draftees – Deni Avdija and Yam Madar.

These days, Kaufman consistently outscores all Israeli basketball players on social media combined by a long shot. The very gregarious Kaufman described himself this week to The Jerusalem Post as a “late basketball bloomer.” He was born into a Jewish family in New York, moved to Florida at age seven, and eventually made his high school basketball team as a junior.

“I fell in love with Cambridge and Boston,” said Kaufman, who went on to play at Division III Lesley University, where he studied business management and psychology and served as captain for two years. Kaufman set two school records – most three-pointers made in a single game and best single season three-point percentage at 44.5%. He was also a semifinalist in the 2014 ESPN college dunk contest.

During his college years, Kaufman met Berdugo, who currently serves as head skill development coach for all of Israel’s national basketball teams.
Kaufman was impressive enough to catch the attention of recruiters from a number of colleges in the United States.

In considering his next basketball move, Kaufman consulted with Laine Selwyn, an old mentor and coach from his early days at what Kaufman refers to as “the Marv Kessler Basketball Camp.”

Kessler was a well-known coach and instructor throughout the basketball world; he was best known as an instructor from the mid-1960s to the 1990s at the prominent Five-Star Basketball Camp in Honesdale, PA.

“Laine knew me from when I was a little kid!” reported Kaufman.
She went on to be a basketball star at University of Pittsburgh, as well as in the WNBA, with several European teams and with Maccabi Ashdod. She played in Israel for 10 years and encouraged Kaufman to consider joining her there.

“[Laine] said ‘should think about aliyah and playing basketball in Israel.’ So, after graduation, I went for it!”
Berdugo was again a big help.

“Yogev introduced me to Israel,” noted Kaufman, who met various Israeli players and coaches through the basketball camp. “He introduced me to Matan Siman-Tov, who became my agent.”
Siman-Tov is currently Avdija’s Israel agent.

“He tried to get me a deal, but they said they needed to see me play in real life,” noted Kaufman.

In 2014, Kaufman participated in a Birthright Israel trip.
“I had a great Birthright experience.”

He decided to stay in Israel to shop around his basketball skills. He practiced with a team in Ramat Hasharon, caught the attention of several Israel team owners, and the then-22-year-old was offered a contract for the 2014/15 season by Maccabi Hod Hasharon of the Israel National League.

“I made aliyah and bought a one-way flight! I had to have the mentality that I was not coming back [to the US].”

In Israel, Kaufman lived with his childhood friend from Florida, Nicolas “Nico” Olsak, a midfielder for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team. Kaufman did not see much playing time that season which he notes “had its fair share of ups and downs.” The shooting guard acknowledges the style of play was different from what he was used to in the US and that he “needed time to adjust.”

Kaufman did not receive any offers at the end of the season to continue playing in Israel – “I didn’t want to go out like that,” – he recalls – and tried out with Elizur Ashkelon, where he received an offer to play for the 2015/16 season. However, the team experienced financial problems, and Kafuman’s playing career in Israel came to somewhat of an abrupt end.
Kaufman is very honest as he reflects on his Israel basketball careers.
“It was shaky. I did not have a lot of closure. It drove me to keep pursuing basketball somewhere else.”

Still, Kaufman loved the opportunity to play professional basketball and to play in Israel.

“Playing pro ball was a lifelong dream. Playing in Israel was super special. Tel Aviv is my favorite city in the world!”
While Kaufman hasn’t played professionally since then, he has creatively carved out an impressive niche and presence in every part of the basketball world – from the NBA to youth basketball.
At 23, he returned to Florida and began coaching a third-grade travel team. After five months in Boca Raton, he realized that coaching “wasn’t for me – I’ll coach my own kids one day!”

He moved to New York to work for Overtime, a startup described on its website as “a sports network for the next generation of fans. We bring you the content of the stars and personalities you want to see.”
Kaufman has worked his way up in four-and-a-half years with Overtime.
The work soon expanded from part time to full time and the company went from five workers to 100 workers with offices in New York and Los Angeles. Since the company started, it has raised $33 million dollars. NBA All-Stars, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony have invested in Overtime.
Kaufman currently serves as Senior Manager, Social Strategy and Distribution. He has media credentials for the New York Knicks, covers the NBA All Star Weekend, and regularly meets with such NBA stars as Zion Williamson, Wade, James Harden and Antetokounmpo.

Kaufman attended Williamson’s last high school game and the state championships, played basketball with Wade at Chelsea Piers in New York, hung out with Harden and was invited by Nike to accompany Antetokounmpo for the launch of his sneaker in his hometown in Greece.

“It was so cool. He is such a down-to-earth guy and I met his brothers, who also play in the NBA.”

While working with NBA stars is glamorous, Kaufman still feels a special connection to Israel.

“I went from playing in Israel and just five years later to working in sports media and doing a feature story on Deni and Yam Madar.
Everything really came full circle for me at that moment. The mini-documentaries I produced ended up getting picked up by Israeli News outlets like Sport5 on TV in Israel. This really brought exposure to them and helped them grow on social media before they got drafted to the NBA.”
The hard-working Kaufman has a “side gig,” known as Better Bounce, a concept he first envisioned while playing basketball in Israel.

“I always had teammates and other basketball players asking me how I increase my vert[ical leap] and what I do to become more athletic and jump higher. I finally decided to monetize this in an effective way. Having everything online has allowed me to scale my expertise around the world to help as many athletes as possible.”

Kaufman describes Better Bounce as “a basketball lifestyle brand that specializes in making workout programs to help athletes improve their vert, overall athleticism and give them what they need to be successful on the basketball court.”

His videos have a tremendous following. On some, NBA players perform complex moves as Kaufman breaks them down and narrates over them so young players can work on mastering the moves on their own. More playful videos feature Kaufman in the air himself, like the one where he is vaulting over a woman.

“My fiancée lets me jump over her. This is how we built trust!”
The incredible numbers of viewers show just how popular and influential Kaufman is. He has had four videos in the past six months with over a million views each. His “stats” include: 85,400 Instagram followers with 1.5 Million views in the past month; 358,700 followers on TikTok, with his videos having been “liked” 14.3 million times
(By comparison, other Israeli and Jewish basketball players – many with very successful careers – lag behind Kaufman in terms of Instagram followers: Gal Mekel: 23k, Jordan Farmar: 120k, Deni Avdija: 190k, Omri Casspi: 252k, Amar’e Stoudemire: 526k and Yam Madar: 37k.)
Kaufman is more than a basketball entrepreneur and influencer – he is a role model and a mensch, appreciated by both kids and adults. Kaufman personally replies to all questions submitted to him from kids.

“I want to be a resource so they can be better at basketball.”
He also cares about emotional well-being.

“I talk about mental health, post about how much sleep I get, nutrition, meditation and good habits.”
And colleagues value him.

Danny Herz, long time director of Six Points Sports Academy, notes, “Mike is a special human being. In addition to his massive talent and his unmatched work ethic and drive, he is a great human being that is kind to everyone, appreciative of others, and unselfish to his core. I was fortunate to coach Mike back in the day, and he always made every team he was on better because not only was he a good player, he was a great teammate.”

Herz uses Better Bounce at his camp and says that “one of my favorite days at Six Points Sports Academy was when Mike came to visit. He brought his energy, his enthusiasm, his infectious smile, and his ability to entertain that day when he performed a series of slam dunks for our campers. Hundreds and hundreds of Jewish athletes cheered for him as he put on a show – and then inspired every camper to be the best versions of themselves with hard work and making good decisions.”

Berdugo, his childhood friend who hired him to work at his sports camp and opened doors for Kaufman in Israel, agrees.
“Mike took a talent, honed and mastered it, and became a world known dunker. He followed his dream and helps others do the same!”
Kaufman takes this role very seriously.

“Growing up, I didn’t know too many Jewish athletes who became professional athletes. I’d love to inspire the young generation to work hard and chase their dreams.”

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